Super greens for the winter blues

Simple food & lifestyle hacks for improving mood & health

Although we live in sunny South Africa, our busy indoor lifestyle means we generally don’t spend adequate time outside every day with enough exposed skin to reap the benefits of sunshine. While this is easily remedied in summer and spring, in the colder months when the sun is weaker, getting outside is less and less likely. This can cause a general decline in mood and this, when directly linked to autumn and winter, is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the milder form called the winter blues.

These winter mood shifts are biochemically related to the circadian rhythm, light and temperature. When there is less sunlight, your internal clock becomes out of sync, so you may find it challenging to motivate yourself into action and to stay aligned with your usual routines.

In the colder, darker months, people who experience SAD are said to produce less serotonin (our happy hormone), too much melatonin (our sleep hormone) and are deficient in vitamin D (our immunity hormone… yes, it’s a hormone). SAD is more common in women and people who live further from the equator up North, but the ‘winter blues’ is certainly something many of us experience.

While making just one change might not bring you much joy, trying a few of the following suggestions might be able to help you feel somewhat happier and stay on purpose with your daily life.

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9 WAYS TO BRING YOUR SUNSHINE BACK

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1. EAT SUNLIGHT

This green gem, chlorophyll, is the pigment in plants which allows them to convert sunlight into nutrients using photosynthesis. It’s incredibly rich in nutrients which are an essential part of keeping our spirits up, and at the core of the chlorophyll molecule is a treasure of magnesium which is an important mineral needed to counter the winter blues. And one that we are most likely deficient in. We tend to eat comfort foods when we are cold, so if we can make sure we are also getting in our greens, we are doing well! Nevermind the added benefit of a glowing skin!

Try these super greens: 

  • Chlorella
  • Spirulina
  • Moringa
  • Wheatgrass
  • Barleygrass
  • Matcha
  • Alfalfa
  • Parsley
  • Broccoli
  • Green cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach/chard
  • Green beans and peas

2. EAT FOODS & TAKE SUPPLEMENTS HIGH IN:

Vitamin D3 & K2 – Because vitamin D3 increases the absorption of calcium, you need vitamin K2 to take the calcium out of your arteries (where it causes trouble) and deliver it into your bones. If you are vegan or vegetarian, note that most vitamin D supplements are derived from sheep wool, so ensure it’s the form derived from algae. Eat mushrooms (allow them to sit in the sun for extra vitamin D), leafy greens and fermented foods like miso and natto.

Magnesium – ah, magical magnesium… once you understand the benefits you will never be without it. A foundational essential for hundreds of bodily processes, including the production of melatonin and serotonin, it’s one of the most important minerals to supplement with. And a real global pandemic is magnesium deficiency!  Eat leafy greens, fresh herbs, almonds, millet, baobab and RAW cacao.

Folic acid – this nutrient plays an important role in the production of “happy hormones” serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  Eat citrus fruits, raw or lightly steamed dark green leaves like spinach, kale and collard greens, avo, broccoli, beans and lentils.

B vitamins – essential for the production of mood-boosting neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine, B vitamins are an important daily need for your brain. They are also energising! Use a B-complex for balanced supplementation which is important, and eat nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, tempeh, beans, dark green leafy vegetables and molasses.

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3. CUT OUT SUGAR & HIGH GI CARB INTAKE

Hmmm, yes, this is a tough one, we know it’s easier said than done. Refined sugar and “simple  carb” foods are addictive. So try at least to cut down if you can’t cut them out. Eating more of the comforting foods like toast, pasta, pastries and rusks seems to be a natural human tendency in winter, but even though you get an instant feelgood hit off these foods, the long term effect is that it can actually bring your mood down. The trick is not to just cut them out, you need to plan ahead so you can prepare what you can replace them with when your “sugar monster” starts to grumble. Buckwheat and teff are low carb, gluten free options. Look up “keto friendly foods” and “complex carbs” online for a range of alternatives. Try our Superherb Chocolate Bar for a mood-boosting raw cacao treat with zero sugar and low carbs.

4. USE NATURAL MOOD BOOSTERS

When we need mood upliftment, Mother Nature has given us many options to choose from. There are natural botanicals that support mental health and boost mood. Some are gentle and can be used safely without a prescription. The ones we would recommend are mucuna, kratom, camu and ashwagandha.

Synergistic stacks – Camu + Ashwagandha: camu contains high amounts of GABA, a neurotransmitter known as “the peacemaker”, making it the second best botanical antidepressant globally. Ashwagandha enhances the GABA receptors in our brains. Taking these 2 together potentiates the camu. If you are using the powders, do a quick shot of lemon, honey and 1tsp Camu C+ in a half glass of water, and then ashwagandha mixed into tea, coffee, matcha, hot chocolate or another warm drink.

                                     – Kratom + Mucuna: depending on how you respond to kratom, this stack is said to be a pleasant combination. The mucuna potentiates the kratom. So first experiment with kratom (or kratom products like Euphoria and Release) to become acquainted with how your body responds to it. Remember it’s very different for some people as opposed to others. Then add small amounts of mucuna and feel what that does. Some people are dopamine sensitive and don’t enjoy it, but others say it’s a gamechanger!

To view more mood boosting botanicals, click here.

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5. IONISE THE AIR IN YOUR HOME

Use salt lamps or bowls of salt placed around the home. We need the negative ions created by salt to clear electronic pollution which contribute to low moods. One of the reasons we feel good walking on the beach is that the air is rich in negative ions. Tip: if you live in a high humidity area your salt lamp must be on all day to prevent ‘melting’ which happens when it pulls the water from the air and becomes saturated. If you can also move it near a warm area like a fireplace, a heater or stove, do that in winter.

6. GO OUTSIDE DAILY, ALSO TRY LIGHT THERAPY

Yes, even if it’s overcast and it’s cold (within reasonable ranges), get outside for a little while every day. The natural light helps us to feel more awake. Breath the fresh air, go for a walk in nature or to the shop, ride a bicycle, or take a warm flask of tea to enjoy the view somewhere. Getting outside the house or office can help to change your state of mind. Light therapy has also been proven very successful with improving mood and energy by suppressing melatonin. Light therapy boxes are available online and can be set up on your working desk or where you spend the most time during the day.

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7. GO BAREFOOT MORE OFTEN

Comfy socks and boots warm us from our toes up and create a sense of security. They have a well-earned place in the winter wardrobe, however going barefoot inside and outside as much as you can tolerate can help you to adjust to the cold better. Even exposing your body to more cold in a gradual daily practice of cold showers can really boost your immune system and elevate your spirits.

Did you know? Going barefoot can lower cortisol levels & help you feel more relaxed.

8. MANAGE YOUR TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA

The reliance on social media to feel connected and catch up on news can mean that the hours slip by while you scroll through your newsfeed. One would think that seeing so much joy online would make you feel inspired, but it all too often causes you to compare yourself with a one-sided version of someone else. In fact studies have shown that if you limit your time on social media it can actually improve your mood and lessen loneliness and anxiety.

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9. START ADJUSTING EARLY

Don’t wait until you are feeling low to make these little adjustments, start in Autumn so that by the time winter comes around you are already well prepared. Having said that, it’s better late than never, so start today. ♥

LAST THOUGHTS...

Light therapy is recommended for people with SAD – this is where the person uses a very bright light box to expose themselves to more light, thereby increasing energy by decreasing melatonin. With the winter blues it can be worth it to use a bright light when waking up and in rooms where you spend the most time during the day, but you’ll need a warmer light for the evening so that your melatonin production is not suppressed when you need to start winding down for sleep.

If you feel you are not getting all the benefits from these nutrition and lifestyle changes, it’s important to note that firstly, you may have another underlying condition and it’s important to seek professional help. Sadness and depression is not something you need to deal with all on your own. Secondly, you may not be absorbing your nutrition adequately, in which case you need to find a health practitioner to help you identify and work with this. Lastly, our food is not the same quality as it was in the early 1900’s when SAD was rare. Having mineral deficient food severely impacts your health, so you need to look for small scale, organic farmer produce (or grow your own) and include nutrient-dense superfoods so that your food will nourish you with the minerals and nutrients you need for a good foundation of health.

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